Every year, millions of people sit down on a Sunday afternoon in February to watch the biggest game in football, the Super Bowl. Even those who are not sports enthusiasts, join in for this once-a-year televised event that has grown from a celebration of the best in American football to an over-three-hour event where your eyes never leave the screen because everything — even the ads — is too entertaining to miss.
Over the past several decades, Super Bowl advertisements have taken on a life of their own. Each year, social media posts rank and analyze the best ads. Journalists write articles about the best ads and why they resonate. Some brands even get millions in free publicity when their ads are featured the next day on the news.
So what is it about Super Bowl ads that make them so iconic? We spoke with faculty members in Strategic Communication about the history, impact and future of these ads. Here are five things to know about Super Bowl Ads:
1. Super Bowl ads challenge consumer perceptions of what advertising can be.
Penny Kwon, Ph.D., assistant professor, explains; “Super Bowl ads have got it all! From celebrity endorsements and blockbuster soundtracks to unforgettable taglines and cool graphics — these ads know just how to draw you in. But what really makes Super Bowl commercials stand out from the rest is that they make viewers feel something. Whether it’s laughter, pathos or admiration for a product, there’s no denying that Super Bowl ads have the power to evoke powerful emotions in audiences. And when viewers feel something that’s when they’re more likely to take action – like buying a product or service. That’s why it’s no surprise that companies shell out big bucks for these coveted spots during one of the biggest TV events of the year.”
2. Super Bowl ads both reflect and influence culture.
More than other cultural art forms, advertising can respond quickly to cultural shifts. Duke Greenhill, M.F.A., instructor, talked about the cultural impact of the controversial Colin Kaepernick Nike ad; “it was Nike and Weiden-Kennedy, for example, who ‘decided’ what the cultural response should be to kneeling during the national anthem. Not a politician. Not journalists. Nike. My point is this: the future of Bowl ads looks different, to be sure, but not weaker, not smaller, not less important for cultural literacy.” Nike and their advertising agency controlled the narrative that is still talked about to this day.
3. Simple and smart designs can impact consumers.
High production value does not guarantee that consumers will remember your ad when up against many others with the same production values. Instructor Steve Levering, M.S., explains; “After the 2022 Super Bowl, all of my students were talking about the Coinbase bouncing QR code ad. In the midst of all of these high-gloss, expensive, high-production value ads, this simple approach really grabbed people’s attention. Coinbase countered what people were expecting from a Super Bowl ad, it was different from everything else and that made it effective. I’m looking forward to seeing whether more upstart companies take a DIY type of approach by making ads with low production values to get attention during the big game.”
4. Super Bowl advertising can begin a consumer’s relationship with a brand.
Wendy Macias, Ph.D., associate professor and associate dean, explains why the 1998 Tobasco Mosquito Ad is her favorite; “It was built on consumer insight, and they spent their entire ad budget that year on the ad. I admire the “all in” confidence, hard work and research. It went to the heart of the brand. I love the ad so much I kept calling around until someone would send me a VHS tape of it (only option in 1998). They thanked me for my love of their brand and ad by sending me a case of mini Tabasco bottles. I had hundreds that I gave away in class every time I showed the ad. Now that was money well spent by McIlhenny.”
5. Even with Super Bowl viewership dwindling, ads aren’t going away.
Over the past few years, Super Bowl viewership has been dwindling even as organizers bring in big names for the halftime show and brands spend millions on ads. But this isn’t the end of Super Bowl ads, Jong-Hyuok Jung, Ph.D., associate professor, explains; “I don’t think it’s the end of the Super Bowl ads era. Instead, I think it may open up doors for other brands (new brands, smaller or less known brands) to consider Super Bowl ads as a viable option so long as the prices are right for them. Since the Super Bowl is still the most-watched annual sporting event in the world, it is still a good option for many brands who want to launch new brands. Super Bowl also can be used as an effective tool that leverages earned media or word-of-mouth. Recent research suggested that Super Bowl ads spike immediate internet searches among consumers after watching ads. I think many brands will use Super Bowl as a part of their cross-media plans that will engage their targets to search for brand-related information or even mention the brand name on the social media platforms.”